Born in 2011, the band Chameleon has steadily been evolving, performing, writing, recording, and ultimately forging it's own very unique path upon the musical landscape of today. Combining a wide array of influences and determined not to be bound by accepted genre barriers, Chameleon has released three EPs to critical acclaim. I caught up with the band - vocalist Chloe Lowery, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Ross, guitarist Aurelien Budynek, bassist/keyboardist Georgios Pesios, and drummer Gabe Marshall - in their Center of the Universe Studio in New York. Among the topics we discuss are the evolution of the group, their writing and recording process, live performances and their newest epic music video. We also take a close look at the first installment of their new Black and White album: Black | Part One.
Dan Roth: Before we get into the new album, I would like to catch up on a little background with the band. Where did the Chameleon name come from?
Chloe Lowery: Andrew and I were working with Dr. Robert and the three of us were just so different in our musical backgrounds. Personally, I have always been called a "chameleon" because I was singing pop and then rock; I was constantly being hired to sing in various styles.. I suggested that one day as a name idea because with our band, particularly at that point, we had the rock element, an electronic element and a pop element. We as a band didn't want to be restricted to just one genre because we were more than just one.
In hindsight, we maybe should have picked something a bit more unique and searchable. There are so many bands called Chameleon.
Dan: Were there any other names in contention?
Andrew Ross: There were a few. "Mayhem and Cheese", "The Baddest Dinosaur of All Time", "Things with Toes on it".
Chloe: Andrew, Natalya (Rose Piette), Dr. Robert and I were all playing Catch Phrase! and the names and adjectives we were coming up with to play the game were just so ridiculous! We thought all of them could be potential band names. We kept a list of all the guesses and jokingly were going to pick an official band name from this list. We didn’t, but kept the list on the refrigerator for a solid year and always referenced back as potential options.[Laughs]
Dan: The band started in 2011 and had a bit of a different lineup than where it is today. You mentioned Dr. Robert's involvement. Can you walk me through the evolution of the band to how it is now?
Chloe: We started out as just Andrew and I writing songs together for fun and for the love of music, with no idea at all that we were going to form a band. At one point we were hanging out with Natalya and her (at the time) boyfriend Dr. Robert. Robert is an amazing graphics designer and visual artist but also an amazing musician. He is an amazing producer with an ear for beats and synth production. Andrew and I had written and recorded a demo of "L.A. Chameleon" and Dr. Robert heard it and asked if he could produce it.
Andrew: It was just guitar and vocal at this point. We gave him the track, he went away for a while, and one day he emailed the song back to us with his beats and production work on it. As soon as Chloe and I heard it, we were blown away - it was really awesome.
Chloe: So we talked and decided to form a band with the three of us. It was really exciting at first as we all had the same vision. Working together was just seamless and easy. We released the Something in the Water EP and were playing out all over NYC. After a while though, I believe our influences and natural artistic direction took over a bit. Dr. Robert wanted to go in a more electronic direction and Andrew wanted more organic instrumentation, particularly in the live shows. It was around then that we decided it would be best for Rob to leave and go in his own direction. The split was all very amicable and we are still distant but good friends to this day. We even continued to work together after the split collaborating on songs like, "Zombie" and “Robber, The Ghost.”
Andrew: He had created the drumbeat for "Zombie" and Chloe and I added in everything else.
Chloe: After the actual split, we still had some live shows booked with the three of us, so we finished out those commitments. Along the way, we incorporated Aurelien Budynek on guitar and brought in Gabe Marshall on drums for the live shows. Dr. Robert then officially left and Andrew and I finished The Monster EP as a duo act. In the studio and on stage, we started to collaborate heavily with Aurelien and Gabe and then hired Georgios Pesios to mix and add some co-production.
When we came up with all of this new material, we really made the conscious decision to make Black and White a full band effort. We brought the songs into the rehearsal space with the guys and together we all created the song structures and layers. That brings us to today, where we are a full five-piece band.
Dan: Gabe, how did you get involved with the band?
Gabe Marshall: Jason Gianni, the drummer for DareDevil Squadron, hooked me up with Chameleon. They were looking for a drummer and he recommended me. I used to study with Jason at the Drummers Collective and then became friends with him after I graduated. He tipped me off to Chameleon, I heard some raw demos, and immediately wanted the gig.
Dan: You came on board with Chameleon when Dr. Robert was still a part of the band. He was creating layers of beats and sounds – did you have enough space within that framework to lay down what you wanted to do beat wise? Was that challenging at all, working with another “beatmaker” in the band?
Gabe: I love playing with other drummers - or beat-makers, in this situation. I marched Drum Corp International with The Cadets for a few years, and marched in a variety of other drumlines, so I'm used to having to fit in smoothly with other percussionists. There was plenty of room to fit in drum set parts. Plus, Chloe and Andrew were super cool about giving me creative space, so it was a lot of fun. The challenging part was finding something slick that didn't interfere with the rest of the band, but still enhanced the overarching vibe.
Dan: Aurelien, I understand this isn’t the first time you have been in a band called Chameleon. When and where was the previous one?
Aurelien: That’s correct. I was in a jazz trio called Chameleon while studying at Berklee in Boston, around 2005. We were playing private parties, weddings, hotel type of gigs… Coincidentally, the bass player Ryan Leach is about to move to Philly after 10 years in LA, and the drummer Mike Reilly has been my roommate in NYC for the last couple of years, after touring around for years. Maybe a Chameleon/Chameleon double bill soon?! [Laughs]
Dan: George, as the newest member of the band, can you tell us how you got involved with Chameleon? Had you worked with any of the band members previously?
George Pesios: My first "encounter" with Chameleon was a couple of years back when Andrew called me to record the band playing during a live video shoot at the House of Yes. They were doing a few songs from the first record - "Boom", "Something In The Water", and "Uh Huh"; my job was to capture the band and guest musicians live and mix it. Andrew and I met at a studio I used to work at in Brooklyn a few years prior, we worked on a side project of his you might be familiar with - Daredevil Squadron. Coincidentally that's when I also met Aurelien and Angus Clark, who played a mean solo on Anthem!
Dan: Chameleon is based out of New York City. Is anyone in the band actually from here?
Andrew: No. Aurelien is from France, George is from Bulgaria, Gabe is from Missouri, Chloe is from Florida and I am from the Carolinas.
Dan: You mentioned that everyone added his or her input. Several songs on the new EP are co-written by the entire band. Was that a hard transition - going from Andrew and Chloe being in charge of the direction of the band and its music to full collaborations with the others?
Chloe: Not really, because organically we all had a place and expertise in varying areas.. Andrew and I started with the core of the songs - verse, chorus - and they all brought their ideas to the table. That part was really easy because we are all such close friends so the communication and understanding of the sound was clear. It was a very open forum when we created this music. Gabe brought his drumming background to the table and defined the grooves. Aurelien is a brilliant artist and had very strong opinions as far as structure and arrangements. George always comes with great musical ideas and is truly the comedic relief of the band, which is super important.
George: Working with Chloe and Andrew is very easy! Usually they would have a very strong idea for the song and a direction. Many times, they'd even have a demo that we'll listen, jam out, dissect and put back together. As a co-producer, we butt heads here and there when talking about things like should this part be loud or quiet, should this transition be longer, do we need all those guitar parts playing at the same time... We all get attached to the songs and work hard and try to make each of them as good as they could possibly be.
Aurelien: As George says, typically they would come in with a rough draft of a song, or a couple of riffs linked together. Gabe, George and I, along with Chloe and Andrew would come up with different feels, work on transitions, arrangements, structure, “let’s use that riff as the intro, play it 3 times instead of 4”, or “let’s try this set of chord changes on the chorus, change up the melody a bit”, “let’s write this intricate guitar/drums set of rhythms that we’ll play in the background during the bridge”, “let’s play that strong hit together on the and of 4 but only the second time around”, that kind of thing. We try it, we keep it when we like it, discard it when we don’t. A lot of the details - on my guitar end anyway - are also done during the recording process, where we differentiate the details and “sonic high architecture” from the foundational, meat and potato function of the basic rhythm tracks. Getting a special tone for a certain section, a shimmery effect during a quiet part, a crazy stuttery high register glitchy sound etc… Some of it is kept, some of it gets scratched, we experiment.
Overall, I would say that I try to bring my musical personality in the mix, without too much altering of the original sound, or at least the sound that Chloe and Andrew have in their heads. I’m just trying to help crystallize that sound. But at the same time throwing some spices of my own that I think make for an interesting and different taste. Never overpowering.
Gabe: It's been a lot of fun! The collaboration has been very familial. The writing/arranging process involved a lot of trial and error. Ideas were put forth that would be really cool, then the same person would put something forward and we'd end up laughing at how goofy it sounded. [Laughs]
Group-writing and collaborative efforts generally require plenty of give-and-take combined with a lot of patience. It's fun, frustrating, and gratifying all in the same session.
My contributions were similar to everybody else's. I'd have some good ideas, and some bad ideas. I wanted to throw out any options that crossed my mind, because you never know when something will land. An example of this is the walk-up before the bridge of "Everybody's Going Down". We were trying to come up with a transition and I looked at Aurelien and said "we could do a goofy jazz walk-up..." and we laughed about it. He ended up coming up with some cool chords and we left it in. It started as a joke, but ended up being something we liked.
It was an overall great vibe and a lot of fun to put this album together as a group.
Dan: It's been about three years since The Monster EP. Why the long gap between releases?
Andrew: Well, a lot happened. My Dad got sick. We actually were going to try and tour a little bit out of state, which is always challenging for us. We had a few dates booked and we were going to give it a try. Then I got this call from my sister that sort of blindsided us. We talked to the guys and cancelled all of the dates and Chloe and I moved to South Carolina to be with my Dad.
This is where Black and White really was born, as it turned out. We rented a house down in Abbeville. This is where we met Bailey (a german shepherd) - she came with the house and we adopted her. Now, there is nothing to do in Abbeville. Everything closes by 9:00. I would visit with my Dad and help him out, but there were all these hours where we had nothing to do. Chloe and I just started writing songs. We must have written 30-40 songs. We had a drum kit in the living room. Neither one of us is a drummer, but we pretend sometimes. [Laughs]
Chloe: We wrote all of the songs there. When we came back to New York, we then had to head out on tour with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and everyone else was so busy with what they were working on. So we didn't really get a chance to start recording any of those songs until the following year.Plus, we didn't want to rush it. There was no point in rushing, since we weren't on anyone's deadline. We just wanted to take our time with it and make sure it sounded right.
Andrew: George works all of the time, so he would come over on the weekends to work on the mix. Aurelien and Gabe would work on it whenever they had breaks in their schedules. So, slowly but surely...
Dan: What about who you are as people and as a band now can we hear on this new material that may be different from past efforts?
Chloe: I would say that on this record, lyrically, we are actually speaking of a deeper message in a lot of the songs. I feel like the past EPs - particularly Something in the Water - were more light hearted and fun. All of our records have been more or less a reflection of our lives at the time. Those songs obviously had meaning, but I feel like because these new songs were coming from an even deeper personal place for Andrew and I, it's a more "grown up" record. Everything's a little bit more mature. Even musically we have evolved, so this record really shows that.
Gabe: Well, I like to hope I've developed substantially as a player since the last record, so hopefully the overall level of my performance has risen in its entirety. More specifically, I've tried to free up my headspace so I can be more creative without worrying about making mistakes. To me, too much worrying during a performance - live or in the studio - can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I start blowing parts when I think about them too much. [Laughs]
On a personal level, I went through a few perspective-changing experiences that I believe affected how I approach music. Chameleon is such a special group with special people, and I really want to maximize every opportunity I have when I play with these guys. The group means a lot to me and I think that comes through in the music.
Andrew: They always say to never talk about politics and religion. But this new EP is very political and we also touch on religion. I am not very religious at all, but here I was with my Dad while he was dying and sometimes I would be looking up at the sky asking what was going on.
From a musical standpoint, you hear a lot more of an Aurelien influence. You hear more of the other guys.
Dan: Aurelien? It's been a while since The Monster EP.
Aurelien Budynek: Since the last release, I have been involved in many recording projects and live productions, sometimes on a creative level and most of the time on a performing level. I’m always learning and I always try to give my best whatever it is I’m doing. Now if I were to re-record my parts on the previous Chameleon release now, I’m sure a lot of it would be quite different. But every recording is a reflection of a point in time, a document of the present, “this is how we sound like now” kind of thing. A lot of things that you will hear from me on another upcoming Chameleon release, the White counterpart shows more of an evolution on my end, or at least some more unusual sounds like some 12-string electric guitars, a lot of banjo, some string quartet approach guitar arrangements, and some more ethereal textures.
Dan: Can you tell me about your musical influences? When listening to Chameleon, can we hear those influences shine through?
Aurelien: Well, I’ve been playing for 25 years now, so my influences are a giant melting pot of players, bands, styles, education… all of which somehow comes through in everything that I do, to some level. Chameleon is close to home because I grew up playing and listening to rock music in a broad sense, so that naturally shines through. A lot of my musical upbringing was listening to virtuosic guitar players and there are elements of that in Chameleon, even though these days I’m much more interested in building and creating compelling guitar parts and interesting tones that serve the song. But it’s fun to just rip once in a while if it’s remotely appropriate, you know? I’ve always been into epic, strong rock n roll presentation with music that is scripted, details that work and help break the repetitive nature of the music, like a painting - staged, calculated, beautiful in the same way every time you look at it. At the same time, improvisation is my religion and I will take any chance I get to play with something that is flexible, a solo, a section, an ambiance - like keeping a small spot in the painting where the color would change every time you look at it.
Chloe: I am definitely the most "pop" person in the band. I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Barbra Streisand. I also grew up listening to some Broadway (Thanks Mom!). As I got older, I started discovering other genres like jazz, electronic, rock and classic rock, which had a huge influence. I toured with Big Brother and the Holding Company right out of high school and got an education for sure. I think the big epic singing you hear, stems from those influences. I am also very into Goldfrapp , The Kills, Muse etc... I also have a love for current pop and hip hop music that’s on the radio today, not going to lie. [Laughs] However, Goldfrapp is where we got some of the idea for the Black and White albums. They make these incredible records that are heavily dance influenced and then they do these dreamy atmospheric records. Part of Andrew’s influence falls heavily into the acoustic/ bluegrass category, so we wanted to incorporate that in this new project, which is what you will hear on White: Movement One. (Coming Soon)
Andrew: I grew up a thrash-head - Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer. I also had this big bluegrass influence because of where I grew up and I learned to play the banjo and the mandolin. I have always said that Bluegrass is very similar to thrash - both are very technical and fast. And you will definitely hear both the metal and bluegrass sides come out from me. But probably the most obvious influence on my guitar playing and vocals has been 90’s Grunge and Black Sabbath.
Gabe: The first rock album I bought on my own was Down on the Upside by Soundgarden. I was 13 years old and I flipped out when I heard it. That sent me down the modern rock/heavy metal rabbit hole, which you can hear all over the Chameleon recordings. I also grew up listening to James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Earth, Wind and Fire because my parents love those bands. Some of that funk shuffle comes through in the Chameleon stuff.
As I said, I did a lot of marching percussion when I was younger. You can hear that influence in "Anthem" and "Stay Wait". It also makes its way onto the new album a bit.
"Movement One", which will come out on the White album, provided space to draw upon a lot of different influences. I pulled ideas from Brazilian grooves, jazz grooves, and even a few Tool-inspired moments. It also required a lot more finesse and creativity. I have a background in jazz - I'm getting my masters in jazz performance at the Aaron Copland School of Music - and I had to draw from that side of my playing to come up with some of the parts.
Dan: Chloe, you mention the "epic" singing and you cited several epic singers as influences. With Chameleon, you have several songs - some from each release - that have a huge "epic" feel to them ("Something in the Water", "Stay/Wait", "Up There"). They seem almost like a test of endurance, where you start out almost with a whisper-like vocal and then as the song builds, you are belting out full force. Are those songs challenging to perform for you?
Chloe: One thing that I pride myself on and what I think people recognize me for is my emotional content when I sing. I really try to connect to the messages of each song while bringing the technical aspect of the voice. I love performing songs like that and I take really good care of myself so I can continue to do so. Singing in some ways is like being an athlete, so it’s important to treat myself as such. I still take vocal lessons and practice daily.
Andrew: Sometimes she will not speak at all for two days for vocal rest.
Chloe: Are they challenging to perform? Sometimes when I'm tired, sure, but I like it. One beautiful thing about writing your own material is organically I write melodies that suit my voice. The only thing I don't like is when I can't hear at a live gig - if the sound in the monitors isn't balanced right. Then I feel like I over-sing and possibly strain. That's what you get sometimes though when you are playing smaller rock clubs.
Dan: You mentioned earlier that you had a plan to tour a bit outside of the New York area before you got the news about Andrew's dad. I wanted to ask you about that. The band certainly has built up a nice following in the New York region from your many live concerts here, and you have a devoted online following as well with your music videos and social media activity. For all of your fans outside of this vicinity that are beckoning you to come to their area to perform, can you talk about the challenges of taking Chameleon on tour?
Andrew: The main challenge is that everybody is doing other things. Aurelien is on Broadway all of the time and works with The Dan Band, Stratospheerius and others. George is working all of the time. Gabe has stuff going on. It's hard to drop everything and go on tour because all of us are active working musicians. It's hard to get five people on the same schedule.
Chloe: Well, especially for 2016, we don't have a tour planned because we are all super busy at the moment. I personally have a bunch of other things happening that I need to be available for. As for the rest of the band, they are in a similar boat. We all have other projects and “jobs,” that are taking priority right now. Even for one gig here in the city, it can be tough getting everyone together. Hopefully the stars will align here at some point and we can work out some dates. It's also a bit of a financial burden. Andrew and I fund everything ourselves and it would be a sizable commitment to fund a tour at this point.But it is something we hope to do in the near future.
Dan: At your Black | Part One Release Concert, you streamed bits of the show live on Facebook. Have you thought about doing more of that? Or maybe performing a concert for your fans online on a site like Concert Window?
Chloe: It is something we are totally open to. That was our first time trying it, but the signal at Rockwood Music Hall was terrible and we kept getting knocked offline. We are definitely looking at doing that again and trying some other things online. We definitely want to figure out a way for our fans outside of NYC to see us, so we will get on that! If we can’t come to you, thanks to the internet we can come to your living room! [Laughs]
Dan: Are there any particular Chameleon pieces you especially enjoy performing live, and why?
Andrew: My favorite to perform live is "Jesus and Guns". It's rowdy and has sort of a punk edge.
Gabe: "Jesus and Guns" is a blast to play because it has a lot of vibe. Otherwise, "White Movement One" is my favorite so far. We haven't actually played that live, but there's a ton of depth to the piece, both musically and personally. The piece means a lot to each of us; it's hard not to get too emotional when I play it.
Aurelien: I really enjoy performing the new material. "Jesus and Guns" and "Everybody’s Going Down" are my personal favorites, they’re really high and intense energy, and they sort of embody my perception of a rock show/spectacle.
Chloe: For me, I have to say "Stay Wait". We had that one show at the Rockwood Music Hall earlier this year where the audience was singing along. It was so moving and so inspiring. I also really enjoyed singing "Barbie" when we debuted that at Bowery Electric. The song flowed perfectly in the set and I feel the crowd responded to the intention of that song.
George: We haven't played it in a while, but I love the last song from the Monster EP "The River". It has a really haunting melody that I just love. From the new material I really enjoy playing "Record on the Floor", which I believe will be part of Black | Part Two.
Dan: Aurelien, your first appearance on a Chameleon record was on the epic “Something in the Water” from the first EP. The band now plays an instrumental piece in concert that is based on this song, with your guitar work taking center stage. Can you talk about how that instrumental piece came to be?
Aurelien: As far as I remember, we were all in a rehearsal room practicing for a show and Chloe suggested we do a short instrumental hint at the melody, chord changes and general vibe of that song, with the guitar being featured. We played it a couple of times and she encouraged the Pink Floyd/David Gilmour aspect of it, with the rhythm section supporting and following the build and the intensity of the guitar. It’s fun!
Dan: George, during live performances, you play keys in addition to bass. Do you have a preference?
George: Little known fact is that neither of those are my main instrument! Guitar is my first, which is why I prefer playing bass. I definitely have the most fun and feel most expressive. I've been playing keys since I was six years old and I keep going back to it all the time. It's definitely a huge part of the song-writing process for me.
Dan: In the past, you often had a horn section playing with you at your shows - Justin Surdyn and Lena Lien. They also made appearances on your first two EPs, but are not on Black and haven't been at recent gigs. Will we be hearing from them again?
|Cinematographer Jimmy Negron and Chloe Lowery
Filming on location for "Up There"
Andrew: On the first two EPs, we had certain songs that really leant themselves to having horns. With Black | Part One, we just really went in a harder rock direction with the core band. We're still great friends and we have a song or two that are being worked on that may need some horns.
Dan: Both on the new release, as well as during your live concerts, you make it a point to have no space between songs, creating musical interludes between each song. Is that important to you?
Chloe: We like it on the albums, but we also like to do that live. I hate awkward transitions between songs when performing live. I think the musical segues make it like a journey for the listener.
Andrew: I did it on my solo EP and I love records that never stop, just seamless. Side 2 of The Beatles' Abbey Road album does that. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, etc.
Dan: The band seems to have a real love and flair for making music videos. Do you enjoy making them?
Andrew: Love it.
Chloe: I feel like it can be hard to get people to sit and listen to music. I think they are more interested if there is a visual aspect. We have a great relationship with our video director, Jimmy Negron. We met him when he was a student and our relationship has continued to grow and evolve. Our video for "Anthem" was his final thesis for school. The work he is creating now is just on another level and we feel very fortunate to have him on our team. He is so professional and super creative. He’s also a genuine fan of the music, which makes his involvement a bit more personal. He really delivers epic work!
Dan: Did he work on the video for your current single "Up There"?
Andrew: Yes! So in this video, we took three different people that are portraying a trying circumstance in their lives and the video revolves around them and follows each of their stories. All of the actors in the video really did go through what they are portraying. We have an amputee dealing with PTSD, a woman dealing with domestic violence, and then Bob and Linda Carey dealing with breast cancer.
For those who don't know about Bob and Linda, she has been battling breast cancer and at one point, to cheer her up, Bob dressed up in a pink tutu. He then started posing for photographs in various settings while wearing this tutu to help him cope with things, and it has turned into this great awareness hub for people dealing with breast cancer.
We wanted this video to be about the message, so the band is barely in it.
Dan: I understand you guys made a video for "Stereo". Will we be seeing that soon?
Chloe: We have sort of a love/hate relationship with that video.
Andrew: [Laughs] It's a crazy video. It is a bizarre amalgamation of things.
Chloe: The video came out a little too goofy. It has no purpose or point. Andrew wanted to shoot a video and it had the guys dancing, Natalya was dancing and singing in it, it just really was goofy.
Andrew: I think we're going to put it out at some point though.
Chloe: It is on the backburner for now. Some tweaks need to be made.
Dan: I find Chameleon's music genre tough to pin down. Each of your releases contain songs that are great, but not necessarily identifiable as a "Chameleon sound". Are there any genre styles, be it metal, jazz, electronica, etc, that you would like to incorporate at some point in Chameleon that you feel the band haven't touched on yet?
|Chloe Lowery and Cinematographer Jimmy Negron
Filming "Up There" on the Brooklyn Bridge
Andrew: Well, "White Movement One" is very acoustic, singer-songwriter driven, which is a side of that we hadn't focused on before.
Dan: Describing Chameleon's music to someone who hasn't heard it before can be challenging, since you have such divergent sounds, from danceable electronica to emotional message-laden power ballads to full-on rockers.
Chloe: That's part of the reason we went with the name Chameleon for the band. Organically, we didn’t fit into one genre, so we thought why not have any musical confinements and just weave in and out of them all. When we started we were massively influenced by The Kills, especially their first record. They are still one my favorite bands out there and you can hear their influence in our music. We have since fused other influences which you can hear. As far as other bands that you could compare us to - maybe some Heart and Muse?
Dan: Chameleon is really sort of its own thing.
Chloe: Yes, and I am proud of that. I like not being labeled or grouped in with a "sounds-like". The core genre is rock and we circle around that.
Andrew: We don't make each song sound different just for the sake of being different. It is just what comes out of our collaborations. I think there is a through line that keeps it all together and that is the vocals and the words- the lyrics.
Dan: With now several writers contributing to each song, can you walk me through the process? Does someone come in with a musical or lyrical idea and then you work from that? Or does it always start with one particular person?
George: The writing process usually starts with a riff that Andrew would play on guitar, or Chloe would have a piano or a rhythmic idea and then she'll just ad-lib some stuff over it, make up words as she goes. That's how the melody is born, which is really most of the song already.
Chloe: I really like writing songs on the bass. I don't like to start off with too many chords or too many notes because then I can't hear the melody. I just want to hear something simple and from that, some babble melody will come out. Andrew will hear that and put some lyrics together to that melody. He will then change the chords so it starts sounding a bit more musical. That's pretty much how Black started. Then we brought what we had to the guys. Aurelien is really a genius - he came up with different chord structures and different arrangements. Gabe would chime in and tell us "I want this drum here" and "I want this stop" or "I want this kind of beat here". And George has such a great ear and he comes in with his suggestions.
Andrew: White Movement 1 started with me and that guitar right there (points to his black Martin acoustic guitar hanging on the wall). I tuned it to DADF#AD. We were sitting around our rented house in Abbeville and I was playing acoustic guitar and recording it. Chloe was singing random lyrics and melodies as I played this guitar. We wound up with a bunch of files that we condensed to six songs. It is very much in the vein of my solo EP, The Letter. Like that EP, the music never stops - it just runs seamless from one song into the next. Very much a stream of consciousness work. I cannot wait until this comes out and everyone gets to hear it.
Chloe: "Up There" is my baby. "Barbie" is another that is me. White is Andrew. I contribute to some of the melodies, but but overall it’s really more Andrew. As Aurelien mentioned earlier, he really loved White and wanted to produce and mix it. He came in a added guitar layers and an atmospheric sounds that really sculpted the piece. I know you haven’t heard it yet so it’s hard to describe, but he magically morphed all the songs together at the end in this epic way that gives the movement a “finale” if you will that is incredible. It’s truly a beautiful record.
Dan: How was the overall creative and recording process for each of you on this new release – Black | Part One?
Chloe: Well, on The Monster EP, we were working with beat elements and then layering it with actual drums.
Andrew: We started with chords and vocals first.
Chloe: I mentioned earlier that we all got together and worked out the songs playing them live in a rehearsal space. As for the recording, we then do it all separately. It starts with Andrew and Aurelien laying down the guitars, then George came in and laid down the bass parts.
Gabe: We then went to Dennis Leeflang's studio and recorded drums. The recording process for the drums had to happen pretty quickly. Dennis lived out in New Jersey, so it took us a while to get to his place. By the time we were set up and ready to actually record, I usually only had about five hours to get five songs down. Because of this setup, I had to make sure I knew the songs really well before I got to the studio. So, I practiced a lot in the weeks leading up to each session. As for creating grooves, my primary MO was to support the overall vibe of the band. I wanted the songs to feel good. Everything else I did was secondary to the feel and vibe of the tune.
Aurelien: We took a few days and sat down and went through as many things as we could, tried things. The songs in this band tend to get sonically busy pretty fast, so I try to keep to the essentials and the foundational, then focus on more textural overdubs. A lot of it can be seemingly unnoticeable, until you mute a certain track and you go “wait, something is missing and sounds empty”. They all play in the overall sonic architecture. We experimented a lot with different pedals and sounds, doubling some existing parts with more extravagant, over the top tones to pepper in where we felt it was appropriate.
I also recorded some tracks in my own studio, most of it were fixes or stuff that we found out were missing, after living with working versions of the songs for a while and feeling the need to fill out some blanks here and there.
Chloe: Once all of that was down, I would lock myself away in the studio and record my vocals.
Andrew: And then I would come in and layer my vocal parts in. Sometimes we would then re-record the guitars if we didn't like how they were sounding with the rest of the components.
Chloe: One of the great things about having our studio here in the house is that we can easily go in and re-record parts. It's also a bad thing sometimes because we are never satisfied and it winds up taking a long time to actually finish it up. We are always striving perfection.
Andrew: And then George comes in and starts mixing. He is so great and has such a great ear. He really makes the sound of Chameleon with his effects and layering.
George: The rest of the song elements, including my bass parts, extra keys and other production add-ons kinda happen on the spot. Many times, Chloe would be looking for "space" or "brightness" or something else abstract and then we'll come up with a new cool keyboard part, or a reverb or delay thing. Some songs like "Up There" for example, got to me in pretty finished form and I just polished the parts and added my own vibe to the performance.
Dan: George, several times your name came up here as working on the mix. Is Music and Audio Tech your specialty? Is this your background?
George: Yes, I've been recording and mixing since 2004. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts from City College, specializing in Audio Production. I've been doing a lot more performing than recording these days though.
Dan: Aurelien, you have been collaborating with Andrew for some time now in DareDevil Squadron and on his solo EP. Any differences when working with him on Chameleon material?
Aurelien: Every musical context is different. DDS is a very specific sound with a canvas that we limit ourselves to - we work within the metal and classic hard rock genres. Andrew’s EP was an interesting process because we almost entirely worked separately. He provided me the basic tracks and I worked on the architecture of the arrangements on my own, until it was done. It wasn’t a collaborative effort in the sense that we were in the same room together bouncing ideas around. We barely even talked about it at all! But we very much get along musically so everything fell into place organically.
With Chameleon, it’s yet another sound and a different set of parameters to work in. A lot of times, the songs are pretty fleshed out and already have a sound, it’s just a matter of getting together and sculpting the raw material, making it sound like a band and bringing it to life with details, edges, choices.
Dan: Chloe, you talked about how it's hard to walk away sometimes and say it's finished. Do you enjoy being your own producers?
Chloe: Oh yes. I'm a control freak particularly with the vocals. I will sing a line a million times over to make sure I get one crack or one emotion that I feel is crucial to the song. I’m a drill sergeant with myself and good is never good enough in my book. It has to be perfect in my mind. [Laughs] When I work with other projects, I do have a bit of a hard time letting go of control. I know my voice so well and instinctually know when I’ve nailed a part or not.
Dan: Your new project is called Black | Part One, which is part of the larger Black and White album. Is there a meaning behind the Black and White name?
Andrew: Someone who had reviewed The Monster EP described it as the first half being heavy and the rest of it acoustic. He went on to say that people don't understand music unless it is in "black and white" - in other words, it all has to sound the same. I don't think that's true. Why can't people listen to a band that does different genres on the same record? That is what inspired the name though. And for this album, Black is the heavier side, while White is the more acoustic side.
Chloe: Black | Part One is more of what Chameleon is known for: Straight forward Loud Rock. Black | Part Two is a bit more fun and there is more of a dance element. White is completely acoustic and a different side of Chameleon that people haven't heard.
Dan: The idea that this would be released as a double album was initially floated out there. Now you are releasing the music in this series of EPs. Why?
Andrew: I wanted it to come out as a double album.
Chloe: Gabe suggested that we release it a little bit at a time. It is more of a singles market these days. It can also be hard to get people to listen to one song, let alone twelve songs. Additionally, it does take us time to get these songs down and recorded the way we want them, so this way we can release them at our own pace.
For those looking for the physical CD, we will be putting that out after all three EPs have been released digitally, so you will be able to buy the complete Black and White that way.
Dan: Let's talk about the songs that are on Black | Part One. The first thing we hear when listening to the opening track "Stereo" is the radio voice of Asheville North Carolina radio broadcaster Scotty Rhodarmer. He was a radio legend there, broadcasting there for fifty years. Where did this soundclip come from? And why?
Andrew: My step-dad sent me a large collection of tapes that his parents had recorded over the years and asked me to digitize them. His parents were musicians, so there were tapes of them playing but there were also tapes where they had recorded the radio. I heard Scotty on one of these tapes and I remembered being a kid in Asheville and hearing that voice and felt that it would go perfect with "Stereo". So that bit is from one of these tapes of his broadcasts from the late '80s. But, the jazzy music underneath Scotty's voice is actually Gabe. He was working on a jazz project for a class he is taking and let me hear some of it and I thought it was perfect to put underneath Scotty's voice.
Dan: This opening song, quickly followed up by "Jesus and Guns", make up the heaviest music that Chameleon has released so far.
Andrew: I think that comes from the fact that this is the first record where there are no electronic drums at all. Gabe is such a heavy hitter and that energy comes across. I think as a band, we are really playing up to Gabe on those songs.
Dan: Lyrically, it starts off with “Change your ways, Change your way, You’re on display, So mind what you say”. What is this song about? Who are you talking about here?
Andrew: Kanye West. It started with him, but even later I started thinking about other super famous pop stars and then even politicians and the platforms these guys have. At some point, people are going to watch the Hillary/Trump debates and many people are going to think, "Why am I listening to this? Because these are my choices? I am going to turn it off." It's the same with music. We as people have the power to turn off the TV and turn off the stereo. Think for yourself - that is the message of the song.
Dan: At the end of the song, someone yells “Yeah!” and Chloe is laughing. What is happening?
Andrew: I was recording Chloe and we did several takes because she really wanted to get it right and she just absolutely killed the ending. So that was me yelling "Yeah!" at the end of that take and then Chloe laughed. Normally we would have taken it out, but we thought it was funny to leave it in.
Dan: It seems like you guys have a blast performing this at live shows.
Andrew: Oh yeah! It is so fun to play!
Dan: As that song segues into "Jesus and Guns", we hear someone singing the Gospel standard “Thank You Lord for One More Day”.
Andrew: That is a field recording from the subway. Gabe heard this woman singing in the subway somewhere in Harlem and he recorded it and sent it to me. We were looking for a segue into "Jesus and Guns" and I thought this fit in so well.
Dan: "Jesus and Guns" has a lot of Andrew on vocals, which is somewhat unusual for a Chameleon song.
Chloe: It has been a nightmare trying to get him to sing more on Chameleon songs; he is such a great singer. When we work on the songs, he is always telling me "You can sing this". With this one, I told him "I am not singing this!" [Laughs] We were in South Carolina and I was on the drums and I wrote the chorus "Go Get Your Guns, Go Get Your Guns" and came up with the beat. I had to fly back to New York and by the time I got back, Andrew had written the rest of it. When I heard the lyrics and how clever and funny they were, I knew Andrew was the only person who could sing this and I am so happy he did.
Dan: And we are hearing some banjo rocking underneath, which helps give it that southern feel to it.
Andrew: Exactly. The song itself came from our time in the South. There is such a weird dichotomy of people that are so religious, so into Jesus - a pretty peaceful guy - and then so into their assault rifles. Some of the people we met are preppers, collecting their beans, canned goods and ammunition for some sort of Apocalypse, Hyperinflation collapse or terrorist invasion scenario. I really hope this song doesn’t offend too many people, it was meant as playful satire. I was just observing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and religious freedoms. However, there is nothing funny at all about the rise in gun violence and religious persecution happening all over the world today. I just had this image of Jesus returning to earth with an AR-15 to fight evil and thought it would make an interesting song.
Chloe: This is a bit of a generalization, but so often when we would talk to “this specific group of people,” somehow in the conversation Jesus and or guns would come up; their form defense or justification. In all honesty though, the song is supposed to be a good laugh with no ill intention or disrespect.
Andrew: So we said, "Jesus and Guns are Your armor on us."
Dan: "Everybody's Going Down". Can you talk about that one lyrically?
Andrew: It's about death. We're all going to die. So, Why are you breathing if you are not going to live your life the way that you want to? Before you're old, try something new, because Everybody's Going Down. Life is such a gift - that is something that really came out of watching my father slowly die. This song is really about making every day count.
Dan: There is a spoken quote that transitions this song to "Up There". "We're all bozos on this bus. There's not a one of us that is not a bozo in one way or another. We're all striving for an elusive goal. If it weren’t elusive, then what would life be?" It sounds simple, but quite profound at the same time.
Andrew: That's my father speaking. He was very nostalgic and liked to record all kinds of things. After he died, I found a tape in his office that was labeled "To Drew, when he is 18". I had never heard this before. I sat and listened to it and it was him explaining why he and my mother divorced. He had so many of these tapes of him just rambling, but so much of what he was saying was brilliant. That quote from him just struck us as perfect for that segue.
Dan: "Up There" is such a wonderful song and lyrically perfect to follow "Everybody's Going Down". Can you tell me a bit about this one?
Chloe: We had this song for a while, but we have never really finished it. I think it's a universal feeling that when we are feeling lost or if we don't know what to do, to look up and ask for help. No matter what or who we believe in, there are times that we ask, "Is anybody up there? Can somebody help me? Because I am lost." I know I have felt that way several times in my life, and especially when we were going through the loss of Andrew's dad. What I have realized since writing it is that it's not what's "up there" but what it is within ourselves and within people that we love that we can find hope and the answers. And that is what is really conveyed in our music video for this song.
Andrew: We are all in this together. Let's help each other out. There might not be someone up there. There could be. There might not be. We really need to rely on each other.
Dan: The EP wraps up with "Barbie". The line that stands out to me there is “I don’t want to be nobody’s Barbie. So take your love away and don’t you follow me”.
Chloe: I wrote this kind of in retrospect because I don't feel this way anymore or have the same angst I did as my younger self. When performing I can go back to how I felt when I wrote it. The underlying message is not wanting to be controlled or made into something I’m not. Something I feel many of us can relate to. It's angry and I get really into it; it's a form of therapy. In my life, I have had people try to mold me and dictate who I should be instead of just being who I was. It is almost a letter to myself: "Oh conscience, I think we agree. This world is not for the weak. I can't be what I never was; you got the best of me". It's me saying that I don't want to be this mold that you want to make me into. Be yourself.
Andrew: That song came together so quickly. Chloe was just improvising lyrics and I was playing guitar and we recorded it. The same exact structure that you hear on the EP is what we did for about five minutes that one day. It almost wrote itself.
Chloe: It's so hard to make a projection and say something is our end goal. The music industry is so strange, so I am not going to set myself up for disappointment. I feel like Chameleon is constantly evolving. We are even at a different place now than when we wrote Black and White. We will continue to make music and hopefully more people will hear it and want it. Our intention is really just to make great music and be honest.
Andrew: If one person hears our music and gets it, that's all we can ask for.
Dan: Chameleon and the new release is the subject of our discussion here, but is there anything else that you are working on musically (live or recorded) where we might hear you soon?
Chloe: I just shot a big PBS special called Rocktopia with Rob Evan. We shot it in Budapest and it is epic and amazing. That should be airing on your local PBS stations in November and December. I am also working with Dina Fanai on my solo project. I cannot give you a release date yet, but it is very exciting. I am also working with Heather Holley and Bob Kinkel on this album. And I will also be on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour this fall.
Dan: You were saying what a control freak you are with Chameleon's music and how you love being your own producer. Is it hard giving up some of that control for your solo album?
Chloe: Dina is like a family member to me. I completely trust and love her. I trust her opinion and she is so positive to work with. Dina and Bob believe in me so much, so I feel very safe with them. Having that trust makes it easy to let go of some of the control and listen to the opinions of others.
Andrew: The second DareDevil Squadron record is finished and it is fucking awesome! We are actually shooting a music video for it in August. We obviously took our time with this one and it is a lot more heavier and progressive. I think the title will be Breakneck Speed. The cover art is completed - you know how on the first record we had the five planes flying? On the new one, there are five motorcycles and you can see a crashed plane.in the background. So it's like we are picking up where we left off - the planes crashed and now we are on old Nortons and Triumphs.
I also did this musical project with Jason Wooten, Goodbye, Dali, which should be coming out soon. I think I am going to work on a sequel to my solo EP, The Letter. Then of course I will be back on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Aurelien: I am also on that new DareDevil Squadron album. It’s been in the works for a lot of years and we couldn’t be happier with how it came out. Also, back in January 2016, I spent three days and three nights in a recording studio in Las Vegas with Cindy Blackman-Santana and her band, and we recorded an album’s worth of music with no preconceived ideas, completely from scratch. It is high-level improvisation and spontaneous interaction and arranging, with a compositional aspect, with some of the very best musicians in that field. It will come out soon as well.
And lastly, while in New York, I’ve been fortunate to be a regular replacement for Robin Macatangay, the guitar chair in the Broadway show Hamilton. It’s been a really great experience to be involved in such a massively successful creation; it demands an extreme high level of discipline and focus.
Gabe: Suspyre, the prog metal band that I was in a few years back, has been talking about recording some more tunes, but that's very uncertain at the moment. And I've been working as a freelance drummer ever since I moved to NYC. Otherwise, I'm considering recording my grad school recital, but that'll fly pretty far under the radar. (Laughs]
Dan: Well, good luck with Black and White and all of your other projects!
For more information:
Official Chameleon Site: http://www.wearechameleon.com
Chameleon Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WEARECHAMELEONMUSIC
Chameleon Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/wearechameleon